When my parents picked me up from the airport yesterday at around 4:30am, I was greeted with more love and excitement than I could have ever hoped for. My dad did, however, not fail to remind me that according to my blog, I had not yet arrived in Santiago as I have not yet posted about the end of my journey.
I did arrive in Santiago. I actually arrived on the feast day of Saint James, July 25, around 2pm. In between exploring Santiago, going to Finisterre, and traveling back to my parent’s house for a visit, I have not yet had time to blog. My journey has come to a close as I sit here back in the States. I reminisce about my journey as if it were a dream. From now on, I want to refer to my completion of the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage as the beginning, not the end. So, here is the story of my new beginning, the start of a fresh page, a new chapter in my life.
On Thursday July 24, while at an albergue in Ribadiso, the director of our program asked us all to meet around 6pm to talk. During the meeting he made a proposition, if some people wanted to get to Santiago one day early, they could combine our final two days of walking into one long day. This would allow each of us to make it to Santiago on July 25, the feast day of St. James, the patron saint of Spain and to whom our pilgrimage is devoted to. I had already been thinking about what he proposed, so I was excited that he would allow us to go one day early. It turns out, most of the group was actually opposed to the idea. However, I along with three others (out of the 22 in our group), wanted to make it into Santiago early. After we showed proof of a hotel reservation, our director gave us his blessing.
On Friday July 25 at 3am, me and three others headed out towards Santiago, in the dark. Seeing the arrows was quite difficult but we never got off track. From where we started at 3am, our destination, the Cathedral in Santiago, was around 44 kilometers (27 miles) away. Who were the three other crazy people who were journeying with me? Two other students, my dear friend Ashley and a senior named Jesus, along with Tom, a spunky trial lawyer who has been traveling with us in Spain as he works for Pepperdine. We used various headlamps and flash lights for the first 4 hours of our journey, until the sun rose around 7am and we stopped for breakfast around 8am. We then trekked forward, all of us feeling invincible.
The last 15 or so kilometers, I walked alone in deep silence and contemplative prayer.
I reflected on my journey, the one that was so close to ending, the one that was about to begin, the one on the Camino that I loved every second of. I thought about Brenda and Thalia, and how this trip was symbolic of their life journey I wanted to compete for them. I also thought about all the prayer intentions that others had given me, making sure to pray for each. I thought about my journey, my growth, healing, and the renewal I had already experienced on the trip. I had no idea how I could possibly become more renewed, more content, be filled with more joy, but God had other plans. God filled me up, causing me to overflow with happiness and peace.
We made it to Santiago around 1pm. By this point, I was ready to be there.
I was exhausted, but I was also in wonderment.
I made it. I made it to Santiago.
I was soon to begin my new chapter.
We made it to the Cathedral de Santiago de Compostela at around 2pm. Santiago was crowded with many people who were there for the festivities in honor of St. James. All along I had longed to make it to the cathedral, physically tired and spiritually aflame, my wish became true as I walked in dehydrated and worn out. My friend Ashley and I fell down at the sight of the cathedral, literally. I was lying down for quite some time in utter amazement, but as the people passing by began to take pictures of us, I then knew I had to get up. Honestly, at first, I was not sure it was the correct building, because, to my surprise, the entire front of the building was covered in scaffolding. But, after some time I thought even the scaffolding was beautiful. After taking in my surroundings and analyzing the building’s exterior, I looked to my right and my friend Elida from Croatia came running towards me. She had waited for us in Santiago for three days, I got to spend a great part of the afternoon with her and she left for home that night on the train. Seeing Elida made all the walking and tiredness worth it. We all headed inside to look at the church together. Like many of the other churches I had seen along the way, the cathedral had a gorgeous gold altar. I sat in awe of the glorious building that I and many others had journeyed hundreds of miles to see.
After some time, I decided to head to the pilgrim’s office to get my credentials. When arriving to the pilgrim’s office we turned in our stamp books. Throughout my journey, I got stamps for my stamp book from various albergues, churches, monuments, bars, and restaurants. When the stamp book is turned into the pilgrims office, this is proof that a person completed the Camino. I am proud to say that I filled up two entire stamp books, since I stopped at so many churches and took so many detours along the way! I also got a certificate from the Franciscan monks. The Franciscan monks give out credentials every one hundred years and it just so happened that our trip was during one of those years!
After getting my credentials I headed to our hotel.
The hotel we stayed at while in Santiago, was amazing. The Parador hotel, Hostal Ries Catolicos, was constructed in 1499 as commanded by Isabelle the Catholic, and is the oldest running hotel in the world. The historic hotel is located to the right of the Cathedral in the glorious plaza. The location of the hotel was wonderful, I could walk ten steps outside my door and I would then be standing in front of the cathedral.
All along I had heard from various people that the pilgrimage is not about getting to the cathedral, but instead about the journey, the relationships you build along the way.
I did not realize how true this statement was until I arrived into Santiago.
When I arrived in Santiago, yes I was excited when I saw the cathedral, but when Elida came running up to me or when I saw other pilgrims in the city that I had met along the way as well, I experienced a different kind of joy. Even when I talked with a priest at the cathedral, he affirmed my belief in saying, “This pilgrimage is not about the cathedral, it is instead about the relationships you build. It’s about your heart, about your journey towards Jesus.”
On Friday July 26, I attended pilgrim’s mass at 12pm. The mass that afternoon was powerful, the music, angelic. Even though I could not understand the priest’s message, I was impacted by his passion and love for The Lord. After walking around the cathedral with an audio history tour, I sat in the church and took in every detail of my surroundings. The alter, the grand organ, the side chapels, the columns, the paintings, the statues, the ceiling, I did not want to miss one thing.
Standing in front of the remains of St. James in the cathedral was powerful and a moment that I fully embraced. Whether or not one believes that these remains are truly the apostle’s, is beside the point. The fact that the vary remains before me, the ones that resided in the small, silver coffin, have brought thousands of pilgrims from all over the world, to travel across Spain, is remarkable. After viewing the remains of St. James, I waited in line to hug the large statue of St. James, which is a tradition.
Later that night, I went out to explore the city with friends. The city was just as beautiful at night as it was during the day. The cathedral was breathtaking, even at night, as it stood there clothed in darkness.
On Sunday the 27th myself and three others decided to take a bus to and spend the day in Finisterre. Finisterre is a rock-bound peninsula that was once believed to be The End of The Earth. I will talk in depth about my trip to Finisterre in my next post. However, I will say that making it to the ocean was the perfect end to the best six weeks of my life. Seeing Finisterre made me even more excited to do the Camino again someday, when I have more time so I can walk to Finisterre instead of busing there. I know that the end of My Way is only the beginning of my new life, my blank slate, my cleansed self. God brought me across Spain and I trust that God will also lead me in my lifelong path. I will make sure that wherever I go, that whatever path I go on, will be the one that God has chosen for me. I will make sure to follow the yellow arrows in my life. I will strive to savor and keep my identity as a pilgrim, for we are all pilgrims on a journey to a place far greater than the cathedral in Santiago.
Just as I made and have a Camino family, I too have a connection with each of you, with every person on this earth. Though there are many things that separate us from each other, I hope and pray that each of us will begin to broaden our perspectives on others, on the world. We are all one large family filled with doubts, many different stories, paths, and beliefs. We all come from different places but have the same origin, the same humanity. Though we all have different backgrounds, languages, cultures, religions, and ways of life, we are all united on this path together, having more in common with each other than we realize.
I firmly believe that every person is constantly trying to find hope, to seek truth. Whether that truth is believed by a person to be found in theism, atheism, or agnosticism, I know we are all seeking for something. Something deeper. We are all seeking for something to put our faith in, for God, for knowledge or for relationships and support from others. I hope to walk through my life humbly without judging the actions of others, the actions that are simply the product of the experiences, different cultures and religions of others. I hope we can all agree that we are called to love and support every pilgrim we encounter on our paths. Whether it’s through a simple smile, the universal sign of peace and love. Or, even through our prayers for others.
One thing we should never forget is that we all have a place, somewhere we belong.
I know that during my camino, I did, sometimes need time to walk alone. But, I did like having someone by my side as I walked, even if we walked in silence.
I loved feeling supported when walking the Camino, in life, I hope to be that support for others. The joy of being included and loved is something I will learn to carry over into my life, into my world. Let’s all be supportive of the other pilgrims we meet in life, we should walk together on our journeys. My identity as a pilgrim will remain as I set out with each of you, on my journey towards truth, healing, hope, presence, and my destination of peace. Stay true, live justly, and always travel on. Peace and love.